While the ongoing demise of London's bookshops at the hands of digital retailers is an undoubted tragedy, the rise of online competition at least has one advantage. It's forced the city's independent booksellers to up their game, and those who have survived have done so thanks to the sort of literary niches, characterful service or café-style shopping experiences you simply don't get on the web. Below is our guide to the best bookshops in central, north, east, south and west London - and check out of pick of the best children's bookshops in London for top reads for little ones.
Best bookshops in central London
This shop, described by one reader as ‘a hub for London’s occult world, essential to the practising magus, pagan, shaman and witch’, has been around since 1922.
Atlantis Bookshop, 49a Museum St, WC1(020 7405 2120/www.theatlantisbookshop.com) Holborn tube. Open Mon-Sat 10.30am-6pm
Whenever we do reader surveys, there’s always one person who gets everyone they know to write in, skewing our results. Colin Wilson, we’re on to you! However, he’s committed at least, and the rest of the fans seem genuine too: they claim it’s ‘not just a lefty bookshop’, ‘has brilliant staff’ and stocks ‘everything from climate change to civil liberties’.
Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury St, WC1 (020 7637 1848/www.bookmarks.uk.com) Tottenham Court Rd tube. Open Mon 12noon-7pm, Tue-Fri 10am-7pm, Sun 10am-6pm.
Extremely popular with readers, this specialist travel bookshop (with four more branches across London) is praised for its ‘lovely, naturally lit areas’, ‘organisation by country’, ‘soothing atmosphere’ and ‘superlative collection’.
Daunt Books, 83-84 Marylebone High St, W1 (020 7224 2295/www.dauntbooks.co.uk) Baker St tube. Open Mon-Sat 9am-7.30pm, Sun 11am-6pm.
‘If you can’t make it to Paris to stock up on those lovely Gallimard livres de poche, then this is the next best thing. They don’t just sell French books: all the major European languages are stocked.’
The European Bookshop, 5 Warwick St, W1 (020 7734 5259/www.eurobooks.co.uk) Piccadilly Circus tube. Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-6pm.
If the old Foyles was a bookish uncle in a soup-stained cardigan, the new Foyles is a hip teenage cousin: ahead of the curve where apps and indie cinema are concerned, but sporting a pair of off-puttingly flash trainers. Foyles has always been one of those shops which trade partly on sentiment, with its labyrinthine layout, oddball-friendly café and loyal staff: Giles, its longest serving, has clocked up an impressive half-century on the payroll.Read more
Unlike some comics specialists, Gosh! doesn’t ‘fill the shop with toys’. Even better, ‘knowledgable staff are sensitive to each customer’s tastes, from aficionados to first-timers’.
Gosh!, 39 Great Russell St, WC1 (020 7636 1011/www.goshlondon.com) Tottenham Court Rd tube. Open Mon-Wed, Sat, Sun 10am-6pm, Thur, Fri 10am-7pm.
An inspiring independent bookshop specialising in art, architecture and photography tomes. Koenig’s first London branch is based in the Serpentine Gallery, and there's another on the capital's literary artery, Charing Cross Road. Both have full access to mammoth arts bookshop Buchhandlung Walther Koenig in Cologne.
80 Charing Cross Rd, WC2 (020 7240 8190/www.koenigbooks.co.uk) Leicester Square tube & Serpentine Gallery,Kensington Gardens, W2 (020 7706 4907) South Kensington tube.
Small, with a constantly updated stock of around 20,000 titles, this has plans to ‘grow over time’. Encompasses fiction, biography, poetry, history, politics and philosophy.
London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, WC1 (020 7269 9030/www.lrbshop.co.uk) Holborn or Tottenham Court Rd tube. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6.30pm, Sun12noon-6pm.
Not just a (travel-writing) bookshop, but an invaluable resource for travellers who need the best maps, globes and atlases.
Stanfords, 12-14 Long Acre, WC2 (020 7836 1321/www.stanfords.co.uk) Covent Garden or Leicester Square tube. Open Mon, Wed, Fri 9am-7.30pm, Tue 9.30am-7.30am, Thur 9am-8pm, Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 12noon-6pm.
This secondhand bookshop is wildly popular with our readers; no surprise, since it offers everything from Mills & Boon to battered copies of The Book Collector. And so recession-friendly.
The Quinto Booskhop, 72 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H (020 7379 7669/quintobookshop.co.uk). Leicester Sq tube. Open Mon-Sat 9am-9pm, Sun 12-8pm.
Best bookshops in north London
Not only good for tots getting to grips with their ABC, this Muswell Hill treasure is a treat for those difficult ‘young adults’.
Children’s Bookshop, 29 Fortis Green Rd, N10 (020 8444 5500) Highgate tube. Open Mon-Sat 9.15am-5.45pm, Sun 11am-4pm.
Deceptively large inside, with a great collection of fiction, thoughtfully displayed, it’s no surprise that locals singled it out.
Muswell Hill Bookshop, 72 Fortis Green Rd, N10 (020 8444 7588/www.muswellhillbookshop.com) Highgate tube. Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-6pm, Sun 12noon-5pm.
With its ‘windows arranged so beautifully’ and a ‘great kids’ section’ this is a solid all-rounder that also holds plenty of readings and events. (Margaret Atwood has appeared in the past.)
Owl Books, 209 Kentish Town Rd, NW5 (020 7485 7793) Kentish Town tube/rail. Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-6pm, Sun
Primrose Hill Books
Readings and events are an important part of this lovely, welcoming shop, where writers like Ian McEwan have been known to drop in. ‘Family-owned and run, they read the books they sell.’
Primrose Hill Books, 134 Regent’s Park Rd, NW1 (020 7586 2022/www.primrosehillbooks.com) Chalk Farm tube. Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-6pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm.
This local is full of covetable novels. As one fan says, ‘I always seem to see a book I want to read when browsing.’
Stoke Newington Bookshop, 159 Stoke Newington High St, N16 (020 7249 2808//www.stokenewingtonbookshop.co.uk). Open Mon-Sat 9:30am-6pm, Sunday 11am-5pm
Best bookshops in east London
An essential oasis for all design creatives, selling every imaginable book on illustration, fashion, animation, graphics, book design, architecture and advertising. The Earlham St store at No 8 (there is another Magma book store at No 16) sells other design-focused products, like plates by cool French label Domestic and a cardboard boombox for your iPod.
117-119 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1 (020 7242 9503/www.magmabooks.com) Farringdon tube/rail. Also: 8 & 16 Earlham St, WC2. Covent Garden tube.
Best bookshops in south London
Great for American and British literature, this Crystal Palace local has ‘a good range of magazines not sold in the larger stores’. There are also big kids and graphic novel sections.
Bookseller Crow on the Hill, 50 Westow St, SE19 (020 8771 8831/www.booksellercrow.com) Gypsy Hill rail. Open Mon-Fri 9am-7.30pm, Sat 9.30am-6.30pm, Sun 11am-5pm.
With weekend readings for children (aged 3 and over) and a small exhibition room, Kirkdale’s place on Sydenham High Street, ‘pound shop capital of the world’, is a ‘pearl among swine’.
Kirkdale Bookshop, 272 Kirkdale, SE26 (020 8778 4701) Sydenham rail. Open Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm.
The outdoor seating makes this the perfect place for a coffee-fuelled browse on sunny days. Inside, there’s an emphasis on art, architecture, design and photography books. Chess and backgammon sets are also available for those who like to linger.
Review, 131 Bellenden Rd, SE15 (020 7639 7400/www.reviewbookshop.co.uk) Peckham Rye rail. Open Tues-Sun 10am-7pm.
The personal touch from owners Hazel Broadfoot and Julian Toland has long been popular in Dulwich Village. Now there’s a sister shop near Wandsworth Common where Beckett’s Bookshop used to be (it retains the name for now).
The Bookshop, 1d Calton Avenue, SE21 (020 8693 2808) North Dulwich rail. Open Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, Sun 11am-5pm.
Beckett’s Bookshop, 6 Bellevue Rd, SW17 (020 8672 4413) Wandsworth Common rail. Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm, Sun 11am-5pm.
Best bookshops in west London
‘John Sandoe’s has a large reputation for such a rickety shop, which is crammed with roughly 25,000 titles sold by well-informed people who care. Just off the King’s Road, it’s one of the few idiosyncratic shops left in the area.’
John Sandoe Books, 10 Blacklands Terrace, SW3 (020 7589 9473/www.johnsandoe.com) Sloane Square tube. Open Mon, Tue, Thur-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm, Wed 9.30am-7.30pm, Sun 12-6pm.
This friendly children’s bookshop comes highly recommended by those with kids. The shop has its own newsletter, the Roar, and nominated books of the month.
Lion and the Unicorn Bookshop, 19 King St, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 (020 8940 0483/www.lionunicornbooks.co.uk) Richmond tube/rail. Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm, Sat 9.30am-6pm, Sun 12noon-5pm.
This tiny publishing house-cum-lovely bookshop has breathed new life into 78 neglected interwar fiction titles, and repackaged them in Persephone's trademark dove-grey covers, each with its own distinct fabric-inspired endpapers.
59 Lamb's Conduit St, WC1 (020 7242 9292/www.persephonebooks.co.uk) Holborn or Russell Square tube. Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm.
A new branch has opened at 109 Kensington Church St, W8 (020 7221 2201) Notting Hill Gate tube. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm.